“The Great Santini” is a marvelous film adaptation of Pat Conroy’s novel. Robert Duvall gives what is arguably his finest acting performance as Lt. Col. Wilbur “Bull” Meechum, a Marine fighter pilot who excels in his job, but bullies everyone around him, especially his family. Michael O’Keefe arguably gives his best ever acting performance as Meechum’s oldest son Ben. Duvall and O’Keefe were both nominated for Oscars that year, but lost out to Robert DeNiro in “Raging Bull” and Timothy Hutton in “Ordinary People” respectively. The film also boasts great performances by Blythe Danner, Lisa Jane Persky, Stan Shaw, and David Keith.
The scene I’ve included here is the memorable and very painful scene where Ben plays a one-on-one basketball game with his father. Duvall has balls of steel for doing a film like this, because what his character does in this scene is one of the most hateful displays of bullying I’ve ever seen on film. The best thing about “The Great Santini” is that there is no redemptive arc to Duvall’s character. He’s an immature, pathetic, loathsome human being pretty much throughout the entire film. He’s not entirely unlikable, but damn near close.